We traveled to Aruba in August 2019 with our kids, who were 11 and almost 9. We had a fantastic time! Here’s a recap of our family trip:
Day 1: This was our travel day. We had arranged for a rental car in Aruba, which I highly recommend doing if you like to explore. For lodging, we booked 5 nights at Marriot’s Aruba Surf Club (actually 4 nights with the 5th night free) and were put in a one-bedroom villa with a garden view. Our kids slept in the living room (one child on the pull-out sofa and one on a cot). While we would have preferred an ocean view, it didn’t impact us much since we were only in our room to sleep, eat breakfast, and eat lunch.
On our way to the Marrriot from the airport, we stopped at a grocery store for snacks, breakfast and lunch items, and alcohol. Our room had a kitchen, which we used each day. It was early evening by the time we arrived at our hotel, so we checked out the beach. Then we swam in the pool and floated around the lazy river a few times before getting ready for dinner. We loved the Marriot’s lazy river and the iguanas that lounged around the pool area kept the kids entertained.
We wanted to eat somewhere close, so we walked down the beach to Moomba’s for dinner. Though we were able to sit at a table on the beach, the food wasn’t good and our server didn’t know anything about gluten-free dining which is necessary for me. This first night I also had a hard time not thinking about Natalie Holloway and how she died on this island. It’s been years and I still think about that poor girl and her family.
Day 2: Our second day on the island was when we realized that Aruba is a very windy place. By windy, I don’t mean a few gusts here and there, I mean a non-stop 25-30 mph wind. I must have said, “It’s so windy!” five times per hour. But, by the end of our trip, we were used to it. You learn to anchor your belongings so they don’t blow away. You tolerate sand blasting your legs. We lost a floatie in the ocean after my son jumped off and the wind blew it across the water in seconds. Luckily, he was in a shallow area and we were nearby.
We spent our first morning on the island alternating between the pool and the beach at our hotel. That afternoon, we tried two different snorkeling spots that were supposed to be good but were not: Mangel Halto Beach and Baby Beach. At Baby Beach, there was a very strong current where the fish were, so I had to stay shallow and hook my foot under a chunk of dead coral to stay in one place while holding onto my daughter. I wouldn’t recommend either place for snorkeling in August.
On our drive back, we came upon a herd of friendly wild donkeys. We rolled down the windows of our rental car and the donkeys stuck their heads right in, hoping for some treats. The kids fed them some goldfish crackers. We also came upon a big red anchor, a monument “to all seaman” in memory of Charles Brouns, Jr.—a great spot for a family picture.
We ate dinner at Barefoot, which we all loved. The restaurant lives up to its name, as we sat at a table on the beach with our feet in the sand. They had great service plus gluten-free bread and entrees for me. We watched the sun set as we ate. It was a gorgeous evening.
Day 3: We started off the morning with a UTV tour of the island, booked through RockaBeach Tours. We arrived to the UTV departure spot at 8:40 a.m. and got back at 2:00. There were two parts of the tour that felt scary to me as a first-time UTV rider. The first was when we first started the tour and had to drive on normal roads with cars flying past us. The second scary part was when our group went on a narrow and rocky trail with a huge drop off on one side. I kept picturing our UTV careening off the trail, so I hated that part.
Our tour stopped at a natural bridge, a natural pool, a church, a lighthouse, and Three-Steps Beach to swim. It was really important that we had sturdy shoes that we could wear in the water because at one stop we climbed a steep ladder down to sharp rocks that divided the ocean from a calm pool. We essentially crawled along the rocks to get to the spot where everyone jumped into the water. This part of the tour required very good balance and excellent water shoes. (The kids and I wore Keens and my husband wore Chacos). We saw a few people attempting to navigate the rocks in flip flops and I imagine their feet got pretty scraped up.
When we got back, we ate a late lunch in our hotel room and then spent some time in the pool. We had dinner on the beach at Passions, which had a great location, but unfortunately the beautiful environment was ruined by a loud keyboardist playing Disney songs, terrible service (wrong meals delivered after an hour wait), and lousy food.
Day 4: We arranged for a morning snorkel trip through Delphi Sports. Our reservation was for 9:00, so we were told to arrive at 8:30, which we did. But the trip started at 9:30 so we waited on the beach for an hour. (I believe the discrepancy in the time resulted from booking our snorkel trip through TripAdvisor vs directly through Delphi Sports, so you may want to call in advance). The sailboat was called the Dolphin and we stopped at two snorkel spots. The first was a shipwreck. There weren’t many fish, but it was cool to float over an old ship. The second spot was Boca Catalina, which was an excellent spot with lots of fish. We also saw two eels, a barracuda, and some impressive brain coral. Then the boat opened the slide off the back of the boat, so we all went down it several times.
That afternoon, we attended a Marriot sales presentation which we agreed to do when booking the trip to get our fifth night of our stay free. We were told it was a 90-minute presentation (which was fine, we were prepared and brought iPads for the kids), but it took 2 hours and 45 minutes. Unsurprisingly, we did not buy a timeshare. After the presentation we spent some time at the pool before having dinner at Smokey Joe’s, which was within walking distance from our hotel. Smokey Joe’s was another hit for our family. My 11-year old son proclaimed the ribs at Smokey Joe’s the best he’d ever had.
Day 5: The morning of Day 5 we drove through Arikok National Park. It’s an extremely hilly ride. The roads were paved but had huge culverts that caused our rental car to bottom out numerous times despite creeping over each one. We pulled off to do a few short hikes. We also stopped at two caves that were pretty neat: Fontain Cave and Guadirikiri Cave. If you visit Aruba, try to stop at each. I liked them because they weren’t dark and narrow, so my claustrophobia wasn’t triggered. You could go in and see the stalactites and stalagmites without loosing sight of the outdoors. There was also an extremely clean porta-potty outside Guadirikiri Cave that my daughter and I appreciated. At that same cave, if you wander down the path you will come to a freshwater pond with little fish. If you sit at the edge and put your feet in, the fish will suck the dead skin off. It was such a weird sight that we all decided to try it. It tickles and was a fun (but gross) experience. There were goats roaming around this area too.
On our way out of the National Park we came upon windmills. We had never had the opportunity to see windmills that close before, so we parked and walked beneath the impressive structures. Later that afternoon we drove back to the snorkeling spot at Boca Catalina, which for us (in August) was the best snorkeling spot on the island.
For dinner we went back to Barefoot. We mentioned our daughter’s upcoming 9th birthday and they brought her a brownie topped with ice cream and a sparkler while singing Happy Birthday. It was a great meal—the best we had on our trip. I can’t say enough great things about Barefoot. Go there!
Day 6: We managed to squeeze in a little time in the pool and a little time with some iguanas before packing up and heading to the airport.
OUR TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN ARUBA WITH KIDS:
1. Snorkel at Boca Catalina
2. Go on a UTV Tour
3. Drive through the National Park and stop at both caves and the island’s windmills
4. Visit the red anchor
5. Eat at Barefoot
OTHER TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP TO ARUBA:
- Rent a car
- Wear an SPF sun shirt for sun protection since Aruba is so close to the equator